What Is Meth Addiction?

Portrait of young person posing in studio.

Igor Ustynskyy / Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

What Is Meth and How Does It Work?

Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine, commonly referred to as meth, speed, or crack, is a powerful stimulant drug.

While some drugs slow down the body, meth speeds it up by triggering a burst of energy and an intense rush of euphoria. It also boosts alertness, reduces appetite, increases activity and talkativeness, and offers a general sense of happiness and well-being.

Methamphetamine is sometimes prescribed—in low doses—to treat mental health conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and as a short-term component in weight-loss treatments for obese people who are unable to lose weight. In fact, it is a man-made drug that was originally developed in the early 20th century for medical purposes, and was used as a nasal decongestant in inhalers, to treat respiratory conditions.

However, recreational use of meth is illegal because it is a highly addictive drug that affects the central nervous system—it impairs brain function and changes the person’s thoughts and actions.

People use meth in the following ways:

  • Smoking crystal meth, which offers a quick, intense, but short-lived high. Crystal meth, also known as ice, is a form of meth that looks like bluish-white shards of glass. According to a 2022 study, this is the most common form of meth use, with over 60% of users preferring this route.
  • Swallowing meth pills, which offer a more gradual high and help people build a tolerance for the drug.
  • Snorting a powdered form of meth, which is a bitter-tasting white powder. Snorting meth also offers a more gradual and less intense high. 
  • Injecting it intravenously, by dissolving the powder in water or alcohol. This route is gaining popularity because it also offers an immediate high, similar to smoking the drug.

Causes of Meth Addiction

Using meth triggers the release of large amounts of the chemical dopamine in the brain, resulting in feelings of extreme happiness and pleasure. This high is addictive and causes people to crave the drug repeatedly in order to achieve it.

Since the effects of the drug start and fade quickly, people often take repeated doses in what is known as a binge and crash pattern. In fact, some people go on a "run," which involves bingeing on the drug every few hours for several days at a time, without food or sleep.

However, consistently using meth damages the brain cells that produce dopamine, which can make it harder for the person to achieve the same high over time. As a result, the person has to take the drug more frequently, consume increasingly higher doses, or constantly change the way they take it, in order to achieve the same effect.

Effects of Meth Addiction

Using meth produces a short-lived high. However, in the long run, it can cause severe consequences. Its effects are similar to those of other stimulant drugs, such as cocaine.

Listed below are the short-term and long-term effects of using meth.

Short-Term Effects of Using Meth

Someone who has recently used meth may experience the following effects:

  • Feelings of exhilaration
  • Excessive confidence
  • Increased alertness 
  • High energy levels
  • Restlessness 
  • Rapid or rambling speech
  • Increased physical activity and movement
  • Dilated pupils
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Raised body temperature
  • Insomnia 
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Paranoia 
  • Feelings of depression as the high wears off
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Unpredictable, aggressive or violent behavior
  • Risky or unsafe behaviors

Long-Term Risks of Meth Addiction

Using meth can cause long-term damage to the person’s health, which often persists even after the person has stopped using the drug.

These are some of the long-term health risks of using meth:

  • Changes in the structure and functioning of the brain, which can cause permanent brain damage
  • High blood pressure or heart damage, which can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or death
  • Damage to other vital organs such as the lung, liver, or kidney
  • Severe itching, which can cause sores on the skin due to scratching
  • Severe dental issues, known as meth mouth
  • Premature osteoporosis
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Insomnia 
  • Reduced cognitive function, which can result in confusion, trouble with decision-making, learning difficulties, or memory problems
  • Anxiety, depression, or difficulties with emotional regulation
  • Symptoms of psychosis, including mood disturbances, hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, or violent behavior
  • Increased risk of infections like HIV and hepatitis, which are transmitted via bodily fluids due to practices such as sharing needles

Risk of Meth Overdose

Using meth can also put the person at risk for a drug overdose, which is when the person consumes too much of a particular drug, resulting in a toxic reaction that causes severe symptoms or death.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 100,000 people died of drug overdose in the United States in 2021, a figure that is increasing significantly every year.

A person is more likely to overdose on meth if it is mixed with other drugs, such as synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which is a cheaper drug that is often added to meth without the person’s knowledge.

Meth Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one are addicted to meth, it’s important to seek treatment immediately. There are evidence-based treatments that can help you live a drug-free life.

So far, the most effective treatments for meth addiction are behavioral therapies, which include:

Since the treatment involves abstaining from the drug, the person may experience withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, severe depression, anxiety, psychosis, and intense cravings for the drug during the detox process.

There are currently no FDA-approved medications for stimulant use disorder, but a recent study found that the combination of injectable naltrexone and oral bupropion was safe and effective in treating adults with moderate or severe methamphetamine use disorder.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

Meth addiction can be harmful to health, to the extent that it can even be fatal. It’s important to recognize this addiction and seek help for it as soon as possible. Behavioral therapies have proven effective in treating meth addiction and can help you live a substance-free life.

14 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Methamphetamine drug facts.

  2. UC San Diego Health. Understanding methamphetamine abuse and addiction.

  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. What is methamphetamine?

  4. National Library of Medicine. Methamphetamine. Medline Plus.

  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. How is methamphetamine misused?

  6. Pro G, Hayes C, Montgomery B, Zaller N. Demographic and geographic shifts in the preferred route of methamphetamine administration among treatment cases in the US, 2010-2019. Drug Alcoh Depend. 2022;237:109535. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2022.109535

  7. Radfar SR, Rawson RA. Current research on methamphetamine: Epidemiology, medical and psychiatric effects, treatment, and harm reduction efforts. Addict Health. 2014;6(3-4):146-154.

  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. What are long-term effects of methamphetamine misuse?.

  9. Indiana Department of Health. Signs and symptoms of drug misuse.

  10. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Know the risks of meth.

  11. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Are people who misuse methamphetamine at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C?

  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. top 100,000 annually.

  13. Richards JR, Laurin EG. Methamphetamine toxicity. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; May 1, 2022.

  14. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Behavioral therapies.